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Czech Ruling Party Loses in Parliament Elections

Election officials say the rightist conservative Civic Democratic Party led by Mirek Topolanek received just over 35 percent of the votes cast, about three percent more than the governing Social Democrats.

But Social Democratic Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek has refused to recognize the outcome, saying his party lost due to unfair campaign practices by the opposition. Mr. Paroubek refers to allegations he had ties to organized crime groups, charges he strongly denied.

Mr. Paroubek says he may consider requesting that the Supreme Court invalidate the result. Even without that move the Civic Democratic Party and its preferred partners, the Christian Democrats and the Greens, will have difficulty to form a government as they do not have an outright majority in the partliament.

That would put it in an odd position to start negotiations with the Social Democrats. But Prime Minister Paroubek has already said through an interpreter he would rather deal with the Communists than with the Civic Democratic Party. "If need be we will pass the laws that are necessary for the prosperity of this country, for the people of this country, with the help of the Communists. And if Martians would have fallen here, I would pass the laws with their help," he said.

But not everyone sees this as the best way to lead the Czech Republic out of its political stalemate.

An elderly woman is one of many voters who turned their back to Prime Minister Paroubek, and opted instead for the conservative Topolanek. "Not [Prime Minister] Paroubek, no. I don't know much about Topolanek, but I don't like Mr. Paroubek. I am not good informed about Mr. Topolanek, but I believe him moreā€¦[than the Prime Minister]"

Besides personality clashes there are serious political differences between Prime Minister Paroubek's Social Democrats and Topolanek's Civic Democrats.

While the Social Democrats want to maintain free health care and pension programs, the Civic Democratic Party seeks tough social reforms to reduce the budget

deficit so it can meet requirements to introduce the Euro currency, perhaps by 2010. Topolanek wants a flat tax rate of 15 percent and reduced bureaucracy.

The promises were made during what Czech Sociologist Jan Hartl describes as the most bitter campaign since the collapse of Communism. "This election season can be described as a season full of emotions. If we compare it with the last elections it means that now there are many more attacks on personalities, rather aggressive, and

emotions escalated visibly by the end of the campaign. This was the most aggressive campaign season since 1990," he said.

Despite the political tensions, Czech President Vaclav Klaus has reportedly said he will begin holding talks with the Civic Democrats on forming a coalition government, soon.